Tuesday, 29 March 2016

More Siskins

I managed to get a 6m net open in the garden between the showers early this morning and again late this afternoon. Each session barely lasted half an hour but resulted in 20 Siskins (17 new & 3 retrap) being caught. I had suspected that numbers were starting to increase again and that was well and truly confirmed with the numbers caught, seen and heard today. It can be hard to get an accurate handle on numbers but there was certainly an audible increase and there were at least 30 Siskins in and around the garden at one point but more probably visited the feeders over the course of the day.


Not your usual view
The 3 retraps were interesting in that they have been around for quite a while and had been ringed on 11th Feb, 25th Feb and 10th March. They weren't carrying much in the way of fat and weighed 12.2g, 12.7g and 11.4g respectively so they don't seem to be in a hurry to go anywhere yet and may not be going to go that far. There have been some heavy birds recently including one at 17.1g on the 25th March and the heaviest today weighed 15.7g. Both these heavy birds were adult males and they will almost certainly be heading back to Fenno-Scandinavia or the Baltic states to breed.

There was plenty of argy-bargy as usual.

This Siskin spent some time feeding on a bud.

Another bird that doesn't appear to be in a hurry to go anywhere yet is the Belgian-ringed Blackcap. It may still be fattening up or it may be waiting for just the right conditions before migrating back to central Europe. Looking at the forecast there may be a suitable opportunity later this week but then I have thought that before, I will just have to wait and see.

The Belgian-ringed Blackcap has been seen in the garden nearly every day since 17th January.

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Easter 2016 - hail, Starlings, Siskins and that Blackcap

I wasn't going to post anything on the blog today and to be honest there isn't really anything new to report but then not much change can be news in its own right. I was more or less confined to barracks today as I had some chores to do including cooking for 10 this afternoon. Cooking for 10 may not sound a lot but some of the appetites I have to deal with means that cooking for 10 is more like cooking for 15.

The forecast of sunshine and heavy showers with a risk of thunder, lightening and hail came good as the day progressed and was quite spectacular at times. If you have to have your wings clipped because of domestic duties then that is the sort of weather you want so you don't feel you have missed much and wanted to go out anyway.

There were a few heavy showers today including this spectacular hail shower which was accompanied by thunder and lightening early this afternoon.
Given we are nearing the end of March it turned out to be a good day for birds in the garden. I managed to fit the cooking and other chores around watching the feeders, taking photographs and catching a few birds in a cage trap. I had to suspend some cooking prep, turn hobs off from time to time and turn ovens off, even part way through cooking, but I got away with it judging by feedback on the final outcome. More to the point I largely got the photographs I wanted, colour-ringed 5 Starlings for my RAS project, resighted 2 previously colour-ringed Starlings and resighted the Belgian-ringed Blackcap (ring number confirmed from photographs as usual).

A68 is one of the Starlings that was resighted today although this particular photograph was taken on the 25th. A68 was originally ringed in May 2015.
Ringed Blackcap at the apple and Siskins at just one of the eight feeders. Not bad for late March in any garden.

This Blackcap could well be the most photographed Blackcap in the UK, ever. 

It is hard to not get attached to individual birds when you have watched them for some time and this bird certainly won't be forgotten in a hurry.

Blackcap with some of today's hailstones for background. South Notts Ringing Group produced an interesting post relating to a wintering Blackcap which can be found here.
Siskins continue to visit the garden in good numbers given the date and they put on a great performance as usual. There were up to 12 at the feeders at any one time and I got the impression that there were a few more around than there has been in recent days. Hopefully I will get the chance to catch and ring a few more before they all finally head north or back to the continent.

Adult male Siskin 27/03/2016. This one is ringed but most of the birds seen today were unringed.

Plenty of action at the feeders as usual.
All 3 of these birds were unringed.
Adult male Siskin 27/03/2016
We will probably miss the worst of the storm (Katie) that has been forecast for tomorrow (28th) and the weather for Tuesday onwards isn't looking bad either so there may be more to report in the next few days.

Friday, 25 March 2016

Returning Chiffchaff and the Blackcap is still here

I finally connected with my first summer visitor of the spring this morning and it came in the form of a Chiffchaff caught at Billinge. I didn't think any were about initially but it started to sing intermittently a couple of hours into the visit. Interestingly it was a retrap and had been ringed at the site as a juvenile on 28/08/14 but hadn't been encountered in the intervening period. It probably bred at the site last year but just not close to any of the net rides and so didn't get recaptured that year. Older birds tend to return a little earlier and claim the best territories and that it what this bird seems to have done this year. The area where it was singing is near one of the net rides and is always one of the first territories to be occupied so it will be interesting to see if it manages to hold on to it when other males arrive.

Retrap Chiffchaff HNN753, the only one back at the Billinge site so far.
The little blob between the eye and the bill is a tick.
On returning home it wasn't long before a ringed male Blackcap appeared in the garden and I managed to confirm it was the usual Belgian-ringed bird by taking more photos to read the ring number. When it will finally go is anybody's guess but if it doesn't leave tonight it may get held up by wet and windy weather that has been forecast for the next few days.

I did get better and closer shots but I thought I would show it on an apple for a change.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

That Blackcap again

Migration has been like the proverbial watched pot that never boils so far this spring and it has barely got to a simmer even at the south and west coast hot spots thus far. I still haven't seen or heard a summer visitors at any of my regular haunts although a few are creeping into the area. I thought last night's full moon may have encouraged some movement but it didn't even send a Chiffchaff in my direction.

The weather that has been holding up summer visitors may also be the reason the wintering Blackcap is still in my garden. Skies were clear in the early part of last night so I thought it may be tempted to go but when I pulled back the curtains this morning it was the first bird I saw.

I have become a bit obsessed with this bird as I would like to establish the last date it visits the garden as I am not sure how much is actually known about the timing of departure in spring. The reporting rates on BirdTrack are fairly flat throughout the winter and don't show an obvious dip before the arrival of those coming to the UK to breed. This suggest that winter visitors leave at about the same time or a little after the first wave of summer visitors arrive. It has to be said that the reporting rate in winter is relatively low but I still think it would have shown a dip if winterers depart before the summer visiting Blackcaps start arriving in the UK.

To be certain it is the same bird, and not another ringed male Blackcap, I photograph it to check the ring number and I managed to do that again today. It would be easy to assume it is the same bird but for the record to go into the ringing database it has to be read. It can be frustrating and on some occasions I have taken a lot of photos to read the ring but I think it is worth it. It has also been entertaining to watch and it would be hard to resist taking photos of it even if it wasn't ringed.

One of 40 or 50 photos taken today. 882 is in the middle of the ring number and you can just make out BRUSS of Brussels at the bottom of the ring.

It appears to be moulting a few feathers around its face.

If it broke of a big bit of the fat cake it would throw it up and into the back of its throat like Waxwings sometimes do with berries.
The weather is looking interesting tomorrow ahead of a wet and windy weekend so I will be out and about to see what I can find but I will also find time to watch out for the Blackcap in the garden.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Belgian Blackcap is still here.

The Belgian ringed Blackcap was still in the garden today but is starting to look very fat so could be about to depart. It is also singing more frequently and louder so is clearly getting into breeding condition too. Research has shown that Blackcaps that winter in the UK gain an advantage over those that winter in the Mediterranean and Africa by having a shorter return journey to the breeding grounds in central Europe. They also return a little earlier and are able to claim the best territories as a result and this in turn allows pairs to lay larger clutches and rear more young. Further reading on some of this research can be found here.

Judging by its appearance it has, or very nearly has, put on enough fat to make a non-stop flight back to its breeding grounds. This could be a journey of up to 1000km or 1200km and take around 24 hours.
It looks rather plump from this angle too.
Another garden regular is a rather scruffy looking Robin. It has numerous displaced feathers and has been like this for several weeks, if not longer. Initially I thought its appearance was due to fights with other Robins but it has had this scruffy appearance for far too long for that to be the case. It wouldn't have left displaced feathers after a fight and would have preened them back into place if it could. It has presumably sustained some damage to its skin that causes some of the feathers to grow out of the usual alignment. Perhaps it has been injured in a fight in the past or has had a close encounter with a predator, whatever the cause it can't preen the affected feathers back into place.

Scruffy Robin.
When I reviewed this photo on the back of the camera I zoomed in on the ring and could see it started with the letter V. This mean't it was a fairly old bird so I took enough photos to get the full ring number. The full number turned out to be V070535 and it was ringed in the garden on 16/02/2011 so would have hatched in 2010 or before. This makes it around 6 years old and possibly older so is quite a good age for a Robin. Looking at the current BTO Online ringing Report the oldest Robin recorded from UK ringing stands at 8 years, 4 months and 30 days.

It looks just as rough from the front.
Whatever the cause of its appearance it is a survivor and quite old for a Robin.
There are still at least a dozen Siskins visiting the feeders and chomping their way through large quantities of sunflower hearts. There may even be as many as 20 or 30 that visit the garden over the course of a day as the proportion of males and females and ringed and unringed birds changes throughout the day.

They remove the skin of the sunflower heart before breaking it into smaller pieces and eating it. If they drop the seed or any part of it during this process they simply take another if they are at a suspended feeder. If they are feeding on a bird table, like this bird, there is a chance they will finish off a seed they have dropped but they often just start again with a fresh seed.

I still haven't seen any summer visitors yet but with migration starting to pick up on the south coast I shouldn't have much longer to wait.

Saturday, 19 March 2016

First young of 2016

The Great Crested Grebes on Orrell Water Park have young or perhaps I should say at least one youngster, as one is all I have seen so far. I am not sure when the eggs hatched but I got my first brief glimpse of a chick on the female's back last Sunday. I didn't managed to get any photos of them then and only managed to get some badly lit record shots yesterday.

There could be up to 4 youngsters keeping warm under the parent's wings and the way she is holding them I am sure there is more than one.
This is the earliest I have known them hatch eggs successfully at this particular site and with incubation lasting around a month the eggs must have been laid in the second week of February. While this is an early breeding attempt for this particular site it isn't all that unusual for the species, although the main laying period doesn't usually start before March as a general rule.

Hopefully I'll  find out how many chicks there are in due course and get some better photos in the process.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

More Siskins and the BLB Blackcap

Another short ringing session in the garden produced 7 new and 5 retrap Siskins along with a new Goldfinch, a new Chaffinch and a retrap Blue Tit. Not long after the net was taken down a ringed Blackcap appeared and was photographed, yet again, and confirmed it was the usual Belgian ringed individual.

Male Siskin 16/03/16
The 7 new Siskins caught this morning brought the total for the year to 133. The 5 retraps included 4 that were ringed in the past few weeks - one from 11/02, another from 19/02 and two from 28/02. The other retrap was more interesting in that it was ringed on 01/03/2014 and is only the second between year retrap Siskin I have recorded.  All the Siskins that visit my garden are late winter visitors or spring migrants and it is interesting that this bird returned having missed a year (most Siskins stayed on or near their breeding grounds last year). The previous between year retrap involved an individual that was ringed on 21/03/13 and retrapped on 01/03/2014.

Male Siskin 16/03/16
Female Siskin 16/03/16
There were around 30 Siskins visiting the garden today and if previous good years are anything to go by some could be visiting the feeders right up to the end of March or just into early April, so there is scope for catching a few more yet.

I still haven't had the original ringing details for the Belgian ringed Blackcap but it has been recorded in the garden nearly every day for the past two months. It usually feeds close to a window so it isn't too much trouble to get enough photographs of the ring to verify the number. The photos don't usually show the bird very well as the aim is to confirm the ring number rather than get a nice portrait. The first summer visiting Blackcaps should be arriving in the next week or two so it will be interesting to see if this wintering bird overlaps with any of them.

138 are the first three numbers on this Blackcap's ring. 

Pigeon post

This afternoon I was trying to get some photos of Siskins for a garden ringing update but was somewhat distracted by a Wood Pigeon that was going through its ablutions. I couldn't resist taking a series of photos including the time it spent titivating itself up afterwards (aka preening) and thought it deserved a post of its own. The whole process took a good 20 minutes so the question is what sex is it - a male with plenty of time to spare or a female in a rush :)

It started with a leisurely soak in the bath and was followed by a good wash, then there was some sunning and preening on the lawn followed by more sunning and preening on a timber garden feature.

Garden (Siskin) ringing update to follow.